African Games champion and Olympic fourth-place finisher Franck Elemba is one of the rising stars of the shot put circle. Here the man from the Republic of the Congo talks about the difficulty of overcoming frequent moves from country to country in his younger days as one of his major obstacles.
Adjusting to the unfamiliar
“I was born and raised in my early years in the Congo. I had many happy early memories of living there; of spending time with family and friends and my early years of schooling. Then when I was aged seven or eight, my parents – who were visa officials at the embassy – decided because of work opportunities to live outside of Congo. Since then I have mainly lived in Morocco, although I have spent shorter periods of time in France, Benin, Gabon, Belgium and France.
“Moving from country to country and living outside of my homeland has presented its challenges. I really miss the food of the Congo and when I travel back I make sure I sit down to enjoy some local treats such as poulet a la moambe (a savoury chicken dish), fufa and peanut soup and loso na madesu (Congolese beans and rice).
“Moving countries has also proved difficult in terms of developing my sporting career. I started out in judo before later turning to athletics. Judo is a sport you need to constantly practice to reach an elite level. You need to be very focused with your coach and training partners which is difficult when you are regularly moving. I lost familiarity with my training group and because I didn’t feel I could pursue the sport to the level I wanted, I switched to athletics.
“Training for athletics was also not easy. As I moved from place to place, I changed coaches and it was difficult to bed down and develop my technique. However, everything changed as soon as I met my current coach Mohammed Fathi – that is when my athletics career really took off.
“Thankfully, through some difficult times my family have been a great support. Devoting my time and energy to sport, first judo and later athletics was a huge help as was making friends at school and finding places of interest to help me relax.
“Of course, moving countries and getting used to new foods, different clothes and new customs can be difficult, but experiencing all this I believe has turned me into the person I am today. When you have to learn about new places and new people, you have to present yourself in a very different manner to avoid any conflict. In fact, many people say how approachable I am as a person and how people enjoy my personality, which I believe has been adapted over time from learning to come to terms with these many different social situations.”
Steve Landells for the IAAF